Providing Refreshed Training Is an Ongoing Challenge

By Allen Smith Oct 26, 2015
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BOSTON—The same old training won’t cut it, speakers at the Association of Corporate Counsel Annual Meeting agreed Oct. 21, 2015.

Updating training, though, can be a challenge, particularly when training is required frequently, such as in California, and where turnover is low.

Employers doing business in California and employing 50 or more employees must provide at least two hours of sexual harassment training every two years to each supervisory employee and to all new supervisors. Connecticut and Maine have similar sexual harassment training requirements.

Good training can limit an employer’s exposure to punitive damages for violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but only if the training program is robust, said Cynthia Sandoval, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in Orange County, Calif.

If training participants’ interest is lost for any reason, “it’s lost for the day,” said Philip Weis, director and senior counsel with Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Ridgefield, Conn.

“You don’t want people testifying that training was a joke,” Weis said.

So how can employers keep their training engaging and unique?

Change the Format

A company might alternate between the different forms of training:

  • Live classroom training.
  • Online and facilitated instruction.
  • Computer-based, recorded learning.

Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, said Dave Berndt, director, employment compliance with Wal-Mart in Bentonville, Ark. Wal-Mart has more than 11,500 stores in 28 countries and employs 2.2 million people globally—1.4 million of those in the United States.

In-person classroom training offers employers the chance to learn about the realities of the workplace through employees’ questions and may at times uncover a potential harassment situation that can be nipped in the bud, Berndt noted.

He observed that other advantages of in-person training include:

  • Engagement—live training typically requires participants’ full attention.
  • Greater interactivity.
  • Customization.

Disadvantages of in-person training include:

  • Higher cost.
  • Travel may be required.
  • May necessitate increased time away from participants’ other duties.

Advantages of online training include:

  • More cost-effective.
  • No travel time required.
  • More uniformity.

Common disadvantages of online training are:

  • Participants may be subject to distractions and multitasking.
  • Participants may have more difficulty forming a real connection with instructor.

But Sandoval said that if a facilitator of online training asks questions of remote participants early on, that will send the message that it will be an engaging session.

As for computer-based learning, its advantages are:

  • Most cost-effective.
  • Flexible delivery options.
  • Most uniform and consistent.

Berndt said the disadvantages of computer-based learning include:

  • Difficulty ensuring participants’ full attention.
  • Limited interactivity.
  • More limited customization.

Live Training Pointers

Employers have the most options for structuring live, in-person training.

Before the training takes its full shape, select employees to serve on a committee that will help design the training program, Weis said. The inclusion of some of the employees’ ideas in the program’s agenda can be a “win-win,” he added.

Try a game-show format, such as Jeopardy, Sandoval suggested. “Break up into groups” where attendees participate more. You can still hit all the topics you need to while keeping them engaged, she said.

Selecting the person who will deliver the training is key to a successful session, Weis emphasized. Is it someone who has delivered the same speech for the 20th time and everyone knows it? Is it someone who shows up two minutes before the presentation? Or who never has spoken in front of 500 people before and has a deer-in-the-headlights expression?

Or is it someone who comes in knowledgeable about the make-up of attendees and in plenty of time to change the configuration of the room’s set-up, if necessary (replacing rectangular tables in the training room with round ones to foster more interaction, for example)?

In one instance where the training room was set up like a classroom with rows for attendees to sit in, Weis saw a facilitator reserve the front row—and then make everyone who sat in the back row move to the front.

Sandoval doesn’t take things that far, but lets those who sit on the back row know she’ll be asking them questions.

She gives a test at the outset of the training and at its end to see if attitudes have shifted. And she follows up later with those who had poor results.

Once the training is finished, be sure to get input from attendees about what they liked and what they disliked, Sandoval added.

“Implement their feedback, so they realize they have a voice in how training can be more effective,” she said.

Allen Smith, J.D., is the manager of workplace law content for SHRM. Follow him @SHRMlegaleditor.

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